The Incas and the Fall of the Empire

Antropology. Incas. Societies. Colombia. Chile. Argentina. Agriculture. Civilizations. Inca Empire. Mayas

  • Enviado por: Javier Diez Medrano
  • Idioma: inglés
  • País: Estados Unidos Estados Unidos
  • 9 páginas


The region of the `Central Andes' flourished, for 2000 years, many different societies unified in the XV hundreds by the Incas. The Inca's empire was enormous. It spanned from the south of Colombia to the regions of the actual Santiago de Chile and Mendoza (Argentina). From east to west, the Inca civilization spread from the Amazon to the Pacific coast. Despite its vast extension, its infrastructure was very good with more than 7000 miles of roads. The empire was unified under the same administration and a common language, `Quechua', still alive nowadays. Machu Picchu was the spiritual center and a fortress (Hemming,1970).

The Inca's society was divided in two big groups. One sector was formed by the noble families, who were considered more important and had privileges. The second group was the formed by the rest of the population, the regular population who made all the work necessary to guarantee the survival of the empire.

The leader or highest authority was the `Inca', he was considered a live god: the `Sun's son'. The empire was divided into four regions or `suyus'. Each one of them had a boss, a member of the nobility.

The army was always ready to act. All the borders, especially the ones next to the rain forest, were strongly watched by soldiers. They were brave fighters and many folks preferred to make alliances with them instead war (Hemming, 1970).

In Agriculture, the Incas were also very advanced. They developed a different strategy and system to work the land depending on the type of land. These different strategies would give them the highest output. They used terraces to cultivate the sides of the mountains (we can still see them in Peru and Colombia). They also had very advanced tools to work the land. Their most popular products were; corn, potatoes, tomatoes and beans. They used the llamas to work the land and to transport things.

The land was divided in three parts: one for the sun, another for the Inca or Emperor, and a third one for the folk. The first two parts were worked collectively and its fruits were donated to the cult and the priests, the expenses of the Empire and the Emperor. The third one was for the population and it was divided and donated to each member of the family. So the more number of members a family had, the more land they would get. It is very curious the fact that the `Inca' also worked the land, breaking the land with a kind of golden plough (Hemming, 1970).

Not to be part of the nobility meant that one would have to pay tributes or taxes. These tributes could be only work. That is, they had to work for the nobles. This obligation could be temporal or permanent. These duties were called `mitas'. The `mita' had different durations. It could be the duration that took to build a palace, a fortress, a road, the construction of a bridge or a canal to irrigate land. The work had to be realized by every man who was married and was between the ages of 18 and 50 years old. When the workers finished with their shift, they went back home and work on their own things. This reminds me of the military service that many people have to do nowadays in many countries. On the other hand, the military service during the Inca Empire had to be carried out by every man of the Empire (Hemming, 1970).

The Incas had a special way of interpreting the world. “Outside the Incas nothing existed, because nothing could exist”, as they used to say. Nothing was said about the cultures existing before them, and also nothing about the folks oppressed by them.

The main gods for the Incas were the Sun and his sister, the Moon. They made big ceremonies to live up to the Sun, because he would give the men heat, life and the development of all living things.

The Incas respected the gods and the holy places of the folks defeated by them, but they imposed their gods as first ones. In order to get gratitude from the Sun they made different ceremonies. For example, they offered corn to the Sun, coca leafs, snails, and the sacrifice of llamas. The cult to the ancestors was the central subject of the Inca's religion. The noble Incas were mummified and they became sacred figures called `malquis' (Hemming, 1970). This accounts for why Peru is the place in the world with the greatest number of mummies, much higher than Egypt. The Peruvian government is making a big effort to deter the burglary of the tombs. Despite this, hundreds of them are ransacked every year, and the objects the burglars have found are sold in the black market. This is a big handicap for the study of the Inca culture. In order to continue knowing more things about this beautiful civilization we all have to make a big effort to reduce this kind of crime.

The `Hunt' and the `Fish' were also very important sources for the population. They had special rules to hunt the `vicugna'. The vicugna is smaller than the llama. It was only allowed to be hunted once a year and it should be at the same place. Thousands of hunters armed with lances forming a big circle, little by little this circle would get smaller till all the animals would get trapped. The hunters killed only the males, they skinned the animals and the meat was sliced in thin slices. The finest skins and wools would be destined to make cloth for the `Inca' (Emperor), the rest would be distributed in the population.

The Incas domesticated animals such as llamas, rabbits, dogs and ducks. They also had extended knowledge in the art of working the pottery, textiles and metals. All the mines belonged to the emperor, the gold and silver were sent directly to Cuzco. If anybody was found with these metals leaving the city, they were severely punished.

Trade in the Inca Empire wasn't very popular. They didn't really know what money was. To exchange products with close countries they organized trade fairs (Hemming, 1970).

The Incas had a calendar (in which common characteristic are found with other civilizations, such as the Aztecs and the Mayas), this calendar was based on the season's changes and on the movement of the stars. The Emperor Pachacuti ordered the construction of towers on the hills around Cuzco, so the people could observe the level of the sun between the towers. Depending on height of the sun, the people would know when was the best time to sow their products. For the farmers, the year started with the sowing, but on the official calendar the year started on the 21st of December, also on this day was celebrated a big festival dedicated to the Sun (Hemming, 1970).

The roads were long and strait. Usually they were stoned. This communication net went to the limits of the Empire. In the desserts, the way was marked with signs on the floor. In the high regions, the roads went up and down by the side of the mountains, some times if they were too high they would build stairs. In the valleys they built walls to protect the roads, these walls were decorated with paintings (Hemming, 1970).

The Mayas and the Aztecs reached a superior intellectual level. Some expert Incas reached high levels in mathematics and astronomy. In politics, the Incas created a vast unified Empire. The political system was totalitarian, the State controlled everything, even personal subjects such as marriage.

The most important artistic representations of the Inca civilization were made in the temples, the palaces, fortress, bridges and roads. Like for example Machu Picchu. Huge buildings made out of perfect cut stones, placed together without any kind of cement, like for example the `Temple of Sun' in Cuzco. The bronze was use for the fabrication of tools and ornaments (Hemming, 1970).

The same as any other Empire in human history, the Inca Empire had a beginning and an ending. This part of the Inca's history is in my opinion one of the most exiting and I would like to focus on it.

The Inca Empire existed only for a little bit longer than a century. It started in 1430, when they defeated the `Chankas' after a long war. This fact would mark the beginning of the military expansion. The empire would reach its highest point during the XV hundred. The End of the Inca Empire was in 1532 with the arrived of the Spaniards (Hemming 1970).

In 1523, the first news about the existence of a rich and powerful State in the south had arrived to Panama; the Inca Empire. In order to conquer it, the Spaniards had organized an expedition with 180 soldiers. Francisco Pizarro leading the expedition.

When the Spaniards arrived to Inca territory, Pizarro realized that after the death of the Emperor, his two sons were having an internal war to decide who would take over the power. After a while one of the brothers, Atahualpa, defeated the other. Pizarro went with his men though the valleys in the `Andes', with the objective of capturing the `Inca', Atahualpa. He was in the city of Cajamarca, located in the north of Peru. Pizarro would reach his objective in 1532 (Hemming, 1970).

The defeat in Cajamarca is not explained simply by the strength of the Spaniards, nor by the fear of the Incas. It is not explained either by the miracle of Santiago apostle; helping the Spaniards with its formidable sword. It is neither explain with the prophecy of Huayna Capac, which talked about the end of the Empire and the arrival of white and bearded men, to whom the Incas should obey. Although these myths had a strong power on both parts, they were not determined factors. The material elements were neither the determinant factor. It is certain that the arms and the horses of the Spaniards made fright effects on the Incas. But the superiority of the Spanish arms was compensated with the huge numerical superiority of the Incas. The primitive fear caused by the horses disappeared soon. The Incas would avoid facing the horses walking through the mountains and rain forest. They would make holes so the horses would fell down and break their legs, after words the Spaniards would be forced to sacrifice the animals. In the campaign of Benalcazar against Rumignahui the heads of the dead horses were placed in stakes as a triumph sign (Hemming, 1970).

The main reason why the Spaniards took over the Empire so easily is that the Inca Empire was going through a decadence period. The Empire was collapsing itself. It was an old and obsolete institution that didn't work anymore. The greatness of the Empire was connected to the existence of great

fighters spirits and conquerors like those of the last leaders of the Empire (`Incas'). Pachacutec and Tupac Yupanqui. Also the Empire tried to maintain the conservation of a military chaste, like the chaste of the `orejones' (people of big ears).

Huayna Capac was a great fighter and conqueror, like his father and grandfather, with him would start the decadence. But it is under his leadership when symptoms of corruption are evident. The victories in the Empire are slower and more difficult.

Huayna Capac was, in spite of this corruption, brave and fair. He was loved and respected by his folk. Francisco Pizarro would say once; “He was so rash that people would dream with him”. With him the continuity of the Empire was saved. But with his dead followed by the war and the division of the territory by his sons, the Spaniards found a plus in conquering the Inca Empire. A Spanish soldier would say; “If Huayna Capac had been alive, we would have never been able to win the war” (Hemming, 1970).

Huayana Capac's last will wasn't clear. This is the reason why his sons started a bloody war for the power of the Empire. Atahualpa (one of his sons), was more intelligent than his brother Huascar, with his brave army would defeat his brother and make him a prisoner. Atahualpa was born in Quito, far away from Cuzco, so he didn't know at all the institutions and the traditions. He would have to earn the confidence of the Empire Capital, Cuzco (Hemming, 1970).

Another sign of the dissolution of the Empire was the abandonment of the strongest principles of its own social and economic system. The force and stability of the Empire came from the fair and organized norms and rules in the agriculture, the work was mandatory and collective, Land and fruits were fairly distributed in the population, in equal parts. This is the main reason the Empire flourished (Hemming, 1970).

The Spaniards arrived to Cajamarca, where Atahualpa was at that time. He became their prisoner. To liberate the Emperor, the Spaniards would ask the `Inca' for high quantities of gold and the promise to convert to Catholicism. Atahualpa accepted the conditions and converted to Catholicism, but Pizarro judged him and sentenced him to death. After his execution, in order to stabilize his authority, the Spaniards named a new Inca, Manco Capac, and in 1535 they settled in the city of Cuzco, center of the Empire. Cuzco is in the mountains, so the Spaniards decided to find the city of Lima by the coast. Lima is the actual capital of Peru with an approximate population of 8 million people. The conquerors had to deal with resistance for the following years. Manco Capac (the new Inca) escaped with his people and hid in the mountains where they fought for more than 40 years. Some times they even were able to reconstruct the Inca's system in some cities (Hemming, 1970).

The History of Peru would changed, the country would be under Spanish domination for the next 350 years, till in the first half of the XIX century when they would reach the independence from Spain.

My opinion on the book, The Conquest of the Incas, is that it has been very insightful. I liked very much the language Hemming uses in the book. In my opinion, is very easy to understand. I am not an English native speaker and nevertheless, I didn't have any problem. I could never imagine it would be so interesting to read about old civilizations. The book is really interesting, especially if you are interested in this part of the Inca Civilization. I decided to read this book because I wanted to know more about the Incas, the thing is that the book deals mainly with the last part of the Empire, the decadence, and the Spanish conquer. Even though, I enjoyed very much and it taught me a lot.

The reason that moved me to read the book, The Conquest of the Incas, was because I like Peru very much. I have visited Peru a couple of times. I like the culture and the people. I am from Spain, so I don't have any difficulty with the language. The first time I went to Peru, I was afraid that the people wouldn't be nice to me because of the Spanish history in the country, but not at all. Everybody was always very nice to me, you have to take care of yourself, the same way you have to, whenever you visit a poor country.

One of the reasons why Peru conquered me is its mysticism. There is a place called the Nazca dessert. It is a desert and on the land there are huge drawings. Some people say that they don't have human origin. I don't know, what ever they are, they are incredible. They are drawings of a spider, a monkey, a bird and others. The dimensions of these designs are more or less about 2.5 miles, to see them you have to take a plane. When you see them you get a strange feeling, it is scary and mystic at the same time. Another incredible place in Peru is the Titicaca. The Titicaca is the highest lake in the world, it is 3800 meters over the sea, and the scenery is incredible. In the lake there same islands made out of a kind of papyrus. The islands are populated by natives, they make craft art for tourists. It was a beautiful experience.

One of the most exiting experiences of my whole entire life till now was to climb Machu Pichu. You feel like in Heaven. I don't know if it was because of the altitude or if it was me, but I was a bit dizzy during my climb to the Inca's sanctuary, this feeling made my time up there even more exiting.

The Inca Civilization, my opinion, is one of the most exiting ancient civilizations, it is full of mysteries that I would like to decode. I feel connected to the Incas and to Peru. I keep good memories of these places, and whenever I have the time and the money I will go back.

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Hemming, John: The Conquest of the Incas. Orlando, Florida: Harcourt, Inc., 1970.